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Somalia's interim government and its archrival agreed Friday to immediately halt their bloody clan war and sign a formal cease-fire later this month in Mogadishu, the war-torn capital.

A formal cease-fire will open the way to large-scale humanitarian assistance to the devastated nation, largely controlled by rival tribal warlords. More than 20,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed or wounded in fighting that erupted in mid-November. The Somali civil war is possibly the bloodiest in the world at this time.The fighting pits followers of Gen. Mohamed Farrah Aidid against the interim president of Somalia, Ali Mahdi Mohamed. The two head rival factions of the United Somali Congress party.

Osman Hasan Ali, who led the Aidid faction at the talks, said the cease-fire would take effect immediately. "We will communicate to our office of the United Somali Congress only to fire in self-defense," he said.

The two sides also pledged to conclude a cease-fire agreement later this month in Mogadishu with three regional groups and the United Nations. No date was set.

The government side, however, asserted in the communique that a cease-fire without international monitoring and supervision "will not hold." The government seeks U.N. or regional peacekeepers, but Aidid's side opposes foreign monitors.

U.N. Undersecretary-General James Jonah, who sponsored the talks, called the problem of Somalia, a nation of 8.4 million people, "extremely complex, with unusual issues, clan-based conflict with subclans and the ferocity of the fighting in many cases was unprecedented."

When talks began Wednesday, he said, "I don't think any of us believed we would leave with a commitment for an immediate and effective cease-fire."